Parents in Walker County can now address school board members at meetings after a new public participation policy passed Tuesday night. The new policy is a result of a three-year-long legal battle.

Jim Barrett, president of the Walker County Association of Educators, said the new policy is a step in the wrong direction.

Barrett and the association filed a lawsuit against the school system in 2015 because there was no way for the public to speak with board members at meetings, which was settled over the summer.

Barrett argues this new policy restricts speech and still does not solve the problem.

"The superintendent has made it abundantly clear that he wants to be the gatekeeper to the board," urged Barrett.

The new policy allows the public to address the Walker County School Board, but the process to speak is lengthy.

First, a person must submit a request to speak with the superintendent, Damon Raines, or a representative about the problem. The superintendent has 5 business days to get in touch with that person.

Then, if a citizen or teacher is still concerned, they have to submit a second written request to speak at the next board meeting. That request must be sent in 3 business days prior to the meeting.

At the meeting they can speak for 5 minutes.

"I think the results are disappointing," said Barrett.

Barrett said the policy excludes one important group of people: students.

There was also an opportunity for people to sign in ahead of the meeting and address the board, but that part of the policy was deleted.

"It was crystal clear that the administration wanted to keep in place as much of the former policy- which is very restrictive, which will be challenged," said Barrett.  

Along with the lawsuit in 2015, parents have been raising concerns about the lack of a public participation policy. Recently, parent complained at board meetings about not being able to speak with their elected board members about issues at their children’s schools.

Barrett said this is no solution and it delays and regulates speech, and could just lead to another legal battle.

"It's a step backwards in terms of free speech, and as I said last night, it's a step towards another lawsuit," Barrett urged.

We reached out to superintendent Damon Raines for an interview or statement and have not heard back.

Channel 3 compared this policy to three other public comment policies in surrounding counties. All three other policies do ask that a person to try to resolve a problem with the school or superintendent before it goes in front of the board, but there was no outlined time-line like in Walker County's policy.